By Cathy Anderson
A bus without a driver, a solar-powered rubbish bin that self-compacts and temperature sensors that activate cool spots during very hot days.
This is just a small taste of how Melbourne’s streets could be transformed in the future. And Victorians can get a first-hand look at how technology being developed today could shape our cities of tomorrow by taking a stroll down Prototype Street, a pop-up exhibition during Melbourne Knowledge Week (MKW), May 20 to 26.
MKW is an annual program of workshops, panel discussions and exhibitions that explore different ideas about how we can shape our future. Addressing issues such as population growth, housing density and global warming, Prototype Street is designed to not only showcase cool tech, but also to provide an opportunity to learn more about the way we currently live and travel in order to be more sustainable, financially secure and happier.
Transport is a huge issue for future communities, and Prototype Street, located in the heart of MKW’s Melbourne Innovation District on Blackwood Street, North Melbourne, will offer visitors the chance to take a ride on a driverless bus. Autonobus is part of the Australian Integrated Multimodal EcoSystem project led by the University of Melbourne, which hopes to integrate public and private transport to make roads safer and ease congestion. Those who prefer to travel by pedal power will be able to see what it’s like to ride in environments such as separated lanes or integrated with traffic via a virtual reality experience.
Visitors are also invited to download RACV’s arevo mobility app, which can plan the most efficient journey from A to B using a variety of methods including car-sharing, e-bikes, trains, trams and Uber.
Prototype Street is all about testing future urban technologies and learning how the public will interact with it and what they like and dislike.
You can also check out Clean Cubes, solar-powered bins that use real-time data to know when to self-compact rubbish. Or decide which lighting you think makes our streets safer thanks to laneway installation Out of Sight, Out of Mind. There’s even an app called Can-I-Park which uses image-recognition software to decipher parking signs and restrictions.
Also on display is the Smartbox communications network, which can be placed anywhere in the city to provide free wifi, phone calls, a place to charge your devices and a tablet for access to city services, maps and directions.
Chair of the Knowledge City portfolio for the City of Melbourne, Councillor Dr Jackie Watts, says the pop-up provides an exciting experiential glimpse into the future.
“Prototype Street is all about testing future urban technologies and learning how the public will interact with it and what they like and dislike,” she says. “Melbourne is a great city that is always pushing itself further. We want Melbourne’s streets to continue to be great places for people.”
Understanding how our homes operate and building that public awareness can really move the needle towards a more sustainable Victoria.
In addition to cutting-edge infrastructure technology, Prototype Street will also host the RACV Tiny Home, designed and built to help Victorians become more energy-efficient, tech-savvy and to live smarter.
Designed by Grand Designs TV host and architect Peter Maddison, the RACV Tiny Home is just 18.75 square metres, but is packed with technology and innovation, including solar panels and lithium-battery power supply, voice-activated Google commands to light the home and activate the smartphone-app-controlled home security system and super-charged insulation. It also features recycled and natural materials.
Stuart Outhred, senior planner with RACV, says the Tiny Home is designed to show visitors how they can live more sustainably (and save on heating and cooling bills) and how tech can make their lives easier.
“The RACV Tiny Home demonstrates how the building design process and new technology can help people be more energy efficient,” he says. “Understanding how our homes operate and building that public awareness can really move the needle towards a more sustainable Victoria… so being on Prototype Street is a great way to showcase that.”
While tiny homes are very ‘on-trend’ at the moment, Stuart says the idea of RACV’s model is not to suggest it is a panacea for our housing issues. Rather, it is designed to get people thinking about issues of housing density, urban form, future planning and infrastructure that can support our burgeoning population. These issues will be the subject of a free panel discussion next Friday, 24 May, called Melbourne’s Missing Middle, involving Stuart, Peter Maddison and Planning Institute of Australia president Laura Murray.
Stuart says that our current approach to city building, especially low-density sprawl on the urban fringe, is unlikely to serve Melbourne well in the long term. He says the limited transport choices that these types of development offer is very concerning. “A smarter approach would be to develop more diverse housing in established and accessible areas, and ensure frequent public transport is operating from day one in our growth areas.”